Zoe Harris
Zoe Harris
A view from Zoe Harris

Why I decided to give Gio Compario one more tune

Plus other marketing lessons from GoCompare's chief marketing officer.

Lesson 1: Reframe your brand

Courtesy of Velvet 'Love your bum'

This was the first ad I remember watching and thinking, fuck me, what a brilliant original thing to try to say in an ad and what a brilliant way they’ve said it. (It was black-and-white bums bouncing to A, You’re Adorable, except the adjectives were all bottom-related.)

At a time when bog-roll advertising was dominated by cavorting puppies to try to get us to remember "soft, strong and very long" – pretty functional benefits (albeit in a cute way – for puppy lovers, at least) – Velvet elevated the product benefit from the rational "our toilet paper is x, y and z" to the emotional "your bum deserves looking after too".

Lesson 2: Bad work can lead to great work

Courtesy of Tropicana 'Breakfast in New York'

I have to caveat this example, as it’s based on an IPA paper I read a few years ago and it’s quite possible I’ve remembered the actual data wrong to suit my cause on occasion. But, anyway, here goes…

Tropicana made an ad with lots of exotic birds singing in a rainforest. The ad was vibrant and brash, suitably tropical and researched really well. Customers loved it – of course they would buy the drink once the new campaign launched. Everyone high-fived, went out for a long lunch and had a fabulous time on a three-week shoot somewhere tropical.

The campaign bombed*, everyone was astonished (bar finance). "What could possibly have gone wrong?" said the marketing bods. "Marketing don’t know what they’re doing," said the finance bods. You get the picture.

The follow-up ad, "Breakfast in New York", with an aspirational Big Apple backdrop and Doris Day soundtrack, researched badly but went on to perform really well. IPA Effectiveness Awards well. The customer (research) isn’t always right.

But it’s a great example to have in mind – sometimes things not going to plan can give you and your team the opportunity to dust down, find your confidence, go again and really deliver something special.

* May not be strictly true

Lesson 3: Shit or bust

Courtesy of Viva ‘Up your Viva’

MTV, where I worked from 2009 to 2011, was relaunching its Freeview channel as Viva, a name dictated by International (boo hiss, International). There was a paltry £500,000 media budget and, of course, a massive expectation about the results.

The media agency came in and did an inspiring intro – the key here was to not salami-slice the budget into lots of different bits.

They then presented the plan: TV, a bit of out-of-home, some radio and print – and how about trialling a newish thing called Facebook?

The exact opposite of their opening vision! But their instinct was right. I watched as the colour drained from their faces as we scratched through the out-of-home line, the radio line, the print line – and told the creative agency, Quiet Storm, they needed an ad that would get talked about and go great guns on social media without any spend. The usual brief, but we really meant it. I mean, I think there were more than 30 rounds of creative and we were still reviewing entire concepts 24 hours before the shoot. The ad aced it. 

The channel was growing 30%-plus month on month, with more than two million followers on Facebook within the month. Less budget means being fearlessly single-minded. 

Lesson 4: What owned media have you not thought of as media yet?

Courtesy of London 2012’s Games Makers

There were thousands of volunteers for the Olympic Games – boring old volunteers that no-one would typically have any interest in. But this was the brilliantly marketed underdog Olympics and the volunteers became yet another opportunity to do something distinctive that contributed to making the London Games feel like "our" Olympics. Rebranded as "Games Makers", they summed up the spirit of "our Olympics".

Anything can tell your brand story if you can be bothered to get creative about it.

Lesson 5: Out with the old, in with the old

Courtesy of GoCompare’s Gio Compario

When I told people I was going to work at GoCompare.com, their immediate reaction was to ask: "Are you going to get rid of the annoying opera singer?" It was a quandary: consumers said he was irritating, while the ad tracker showed the ads matched the saliency of Comparethemarket.com, with a fraction of the budget. Big dilemma.

Gio wasn’t the problem; what to do with him was the challenge. He was too good an asset to lose. What a bloody gift I had been given!

And, anyway, while true that I was always asked "please tell me you are going to get rid of that annoying opera singer", it was equally true that the first response I had when saying I was working at GoCompare was to see people’s faces light up as they belted out a chorus of "Go compare" while miming a moustache.

It’s tempting to want to make your own mark on something. And it’s quite possible you’ve been brought in to make change. But don’t forget to look at what inheritance you have been left – it may just be that all it needs is resetting rather than chucking it altogether.

Zoe Harris is chief marketing office at GoCompare.com and a member of Campaign’s Power 100